English band The 1975 made a stop at the San Jose Event Center at San Jose State University last Tuesday as part of their 30-show tour across the US, Canada and Mexico. The show was bright, meandering, playful and had some of the best lighting displays I’ve seen since Laurie Anderson came to Berkeley in 2012.
Every time I agree to cover a show in San Jose I swear I’ll never again sit in 90+ minutes of traffic at rush hour. But then … another great one pops up and I find myself bathing in brake lights. Working through the strange maze of SJSU’s parking garage, I met others who have traveled even further to this show – Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Ramon. Some had been camped out in front of the venue since noon in hopes of the best possible general admission position. In all around 5,000 of us packed the center.
The band came out strong with their eponymous track and lead singer Matthew Healy looking like an emo prince: hiding behind layers of too-big clothes, sleeves hanging far below his hands, curly hair flopping as he bounced around, red plaid pants. The large stage spread the band out, but the lights brought them together. Three risers, four columns, and a huge LED screen across the back – at times all working together to create the visual impression of a single flat screen on which the band was displayed in cinematic silhouette.
Knowing only the band’s hits, I thought of them as a high energy, danceable pop rock band. But the nearly two hour set list — playing mostly from second studio album I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It — delved into so many different head spaces and genres that I’ve re-pegged them as such: futuristic synthwave emo rock meets every movie John Hughes ever made. (I was delighted to come home and find that Healy has cited Hughes as a major influence.)
“We’re not massively on the radio. We’re not massively anywhere, except the Internet. Which means we have amazing fans,” Healy called out to deafening applause at one point. The crowd was in his hands – mostly under 25, overwhelmingly (apparently) female. Healy sang, and the crowd sang with them, mostly about love, sex, pain. All the good emo topics.
A vast list of musical references hit my ears: Michael Jackson, the Top Gun soundtrack, Sigur Ros, Peter Gabriel, Cut Copy, Frank Ocean, M83, hints of R&B and soul. In summoning so many sounds, the band created something refreshing and exciting to my ear. I’ve heard them derided as shallow and derivative. But all music is derivative. This band is at least building something out of the derivations, and there is a strong pulse of meaning in it all.
Two things I have to mention: Matthew Healy looked tired. His drummer looked tired too. Is this a band ready for the next 21 shows in almost as many days? Healy’s voice gave out several times, (though the crowd carried on for him every time.) Digging through the band’s catalogue of past live videos I can see that tired and nervous is a look the band has carried since its origin in 2011. (This show with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is fantastic.) And yet, they never lost me. The energy of the songs carried on, no doubt in part due to the second thing I have to mention: the incredible light show — designed by the brilliant Tobias Rylander and programmed by Darren Purves. Youtuber Carolina C put together some highlights capturing some of the night’s mellower moments:
All in all, this was a show that moved me on an aesthetic, musical and emotional level and I listened to the band the whole drive home. Find their full tour schedule here, and the set list is below. Were you there? Tell us what you thought.
(A note about the opener, hip hop artist 070 Shake, pictured below. Based out of New Jersey, Shake has tens of thousands of streams on her Soundcloud and has clearly been attracting the attention of the industry – including Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music label. Her style dark, f*ck all style is on full display in her newest release “Trust Nobody“. She’s definitely talented, but it was a strange choice to pair with The 1975 and only the front of the room was on board with her and her crew.)
This Must Be My Dream
A Change of Heart
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
Please Be Naked
If I Believe You